The Cultural Divide in Documentation Availability

by Jeff Loughridge

Companies with strong IP heritages freely share their documentation on the web. Pick any one of the top router/switch vendors and you can find documentation on almost any piece of network gear. Now try to find documentation from any vendor that offers gear such as HLRs, RNCs, or ASN-GWs. Good luck in finding anything in that area unless you have a support account tied to a contract.

Why the difference? Do the traditional wireline/wireless telecom equipment vendors believe there is competitive advantage in not sharing documentation with the Internet community? I don’t believe that to be the case. The difference lies in culture. Consider the openness with which IP developed and matured. The IETF model of rough consensus on public email lists is about as open as protocol development can be. Compare this to closed and proprietary ways of the old guard vendors. Interoperability was very limited. If you had Vendor X for a DWDM terminal, you were almost guaranteed to have the same vendor’s equipment on the remote end. The same holds true in the wireless space for RAN. Without this need for interoperability, documentation become something shared only during an RFP process.

Market forces have dragged traditional telecom equipment vendors into the IP world. It is one that is not aligned with how they think and how they develop, market, and support their gear. This will gradually change. In meantime, I’m going to go check what VLAN a vendor’s picocell uses to download its initial config…oh wait. Damn.

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